Paddlers, get ready to schedule your next trip to Northwest Arkansas/Northeast Oklahoma. In 2023, the Walton Family Foundation, in partnership with the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), will have completed construction on a $33 million, 30-acre whitewater park.
With a course that’s 1,200 feet long and 100 feet bank to bank, the park will be built in the sleepy town of Watts, Oklahoma. The whitewater park is expected to draw 85,000 visitors a year to the region with an estimated annual economic impact of $900,000.
“Surrounded by the Illinois River and the Ozark Mountains, WOKA perfectly defines the native beauty America’s Heartland has to offer,” said Jim Walton, Walton Family Foundation. “This national-caliber park will preserve access to nature for generations and unlock economic opportunity by attracting visitors looking for unique outdoor experiences.”
An acronym for Whitewater Oklahoma Arkansas, WOKA will feature eight drops to cater to kayakers, surfers, and tubers of all skill levels.
“Some drops will create smooth surfing waves for river surfers while other drops will create crests with a whitewater effect for kayakers and playboaters,” said Neville Gough, a construction manager for Walton Enterprises. “Attendees will be able to rent river surfboards, kayaks, and other boats through a fully managed rental shop.”
The park will connect to a $2 million kayak park roughly 2 miles upstream in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, which will allow paddlers to drop in at the kayak park and float to the new whitewater center in a few short hours. This means kayakers will be able to choose their own adventures — they can drop in at the Siloam Springs Kayak Park for a full-day float or at WOKA for a half-day.
Another Piece of World-Class Outdoor Infrastructure
What’s most exciting for locals is that it’s another piece of world-class outdoor infrastructure being built in Arkansas.
We’ve already written about the exploding mountain biking scene in Bentonville. After riding those trails, our own Sean McCoy said, “I get why people call this place the mountain bike capital of the world. These trails are f****** amazing.”
Now that the Waltons are investing in the area’s paddling infrastructure, hopes are high that Northwest Arkansas becomes known as a paddling destination.